Wild NZ: Gypsy Life

Wild NZ: Gypsy Life

Needless to say, we were always met with plenty of questions. And out of the many conversations we’ve had, the most common question was “How did you pull it off?” … followed by “I’d love to do something like that!”

The call to a life less ordinary

by Mike Cooney

So, do you hear it? Can you feel a stirring in your soul? A call to something more exciting than the mundane, everyday routine? Are your explorer genes twitching at the thought of what’s out there to discover? Is there a longing for adventure … a desire to create family memories that’ll last forever?

If so … are you going to do anything about it?

Please excuse my PROFOUND philosophical musings, but it’s the consequence of a six-month caravan trip around the South Island with my wife and four kids. You see, it’d been a ‘bucket-list’ dream of ours for a few years – and rather than wait until the children had flown the coop, we wanted to have this adventure with our kids. So at the beginning of 2018, after months of preparation, we hitched up the caravan, piled into our truck, and set off down the driveway into what would later become the adventure of a lifetime.

During our time away, we met lots of people who were intrigued about what we were doing and why we were doing it – because we certainly stood out! It was difficult for us to make a quiet entrance into a new area: picture a large 4WD towing an even larger caravan, with six bikes mounted between them, and surfboards sticking out everywhere. And then, pulling into a campsite, four teens and their parents falling out of the truck, the caravan opening, and a whole bunch of its insides spilling outside … 

We were subject to stares from locals, photographs from fascinated tourists, and on the odd occasion, disdain from grumpy motorhomers upset at the rowdy new arrivals spoiling their peace-and-quiet! But as soon as they met us and saw how nice we were, they would quickly be won over … most of the time!

Needless to say, we were always met with plenty of questions. And out of the many conversations we’ve had, the most common question was “How did you pull it off?” … followed by “I’d love to do something like that!” And, interestingly, those we’d met who were already living the gypsy life (or had done similar trips with their families) all said, “You’ll never regret it!”

So, with all this in mind, I thought it’d be a good idea to share what we’ve learnt, and hopefully, inspire you (yes, YOU!) to have a crack at doing something with your family. It may not look exactly like our adventure – but it doesn’t have to! What matters is that you acknowledge the call to a life less ordinary, and give yourself and your family an experience you’ll never regret. Ever.


The first thing that needs to happen is: simply decide to do something! Anything! Consider your family situation, and then figure out what you’d most like to do – what would spin your wheels – because it’ll be different for everyone. We have friends who’ve sailed around the world with their family, and others who’ve surfed their way around America and Hawaii with their kids. I know people who’ve built their own bus and travel full-time around the country promoting sustainable living.

The point is, you don’t all have to do six months in a caravan – nor do you have to do something super-crazy like flying to the moon!


Once you’ve made the decision, put a time-frame to it. It needs to be realistic – you might need to save money, or change jobs, or whatever. For us, the timing aspect was all about the age of our kids. With our eldest now 16 and doing Level 2 NCEA next year, we figured this year was the time to do it. Leaving the trip until 2019 was going to make schooling on the road much more difficult. And for the rest of the kids? Well, we knew they were going to get a better education with us, anyway!

I also wanted the kiddos old enough that I could have fun with them, doing things I like to do … like mountain-biking, surfing, fishing etc. I’m a little selfish like that.


The idea of sharing your plans is about accountability. Let me tell you from experience, it’s easy to make excuses as to why you can’t go on your adventure. But knowing that you’ve told people, helps keep you motivated. However, be warned: some people may rain on your parade. You might be advised it’s a silly idea, or that it’s too expensive, or that your children are going to become unemployable thickos because they missed too much school … (That’s okay though, because we know better!) Just make sure you’ve told people who will encourage you as well.


It’s all very well having an idea and telling people what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. But if you don’t have a plan regarding the how-to, you may find the wheels fall off your adventure before you even begin. There are logistics you’ll need to work through for a mission like this! For example: how much money will we need? Can I continue to work while I’m away? Should we rent our house out? Can I enrol my kids in Te Kura correspondence school, or should I home school? Do I need to buy a caravan/yacht/horse? Who’s going to feed the dog?

Remember the 7 P’s of planning (courtesy of the UK military): Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

Now, all of this is great advice – whether you’re wanting to explore Antarctica by donkey, sail the seven seas in a dinghy, or paddle the Amazon from source to sea. But, unfortunately, I have little information about the best donkey for sub-zero temperatures or what to do when confronted by angry Pygmies on a river. However, I can tell you how to travel fulltime around New Zealand! So, if an epic caravan adventure is your thing, here are three more tips: 


If you don’t already have one, you’ll have to buy one. We ended up going new (which wasn’t in our original plan.) After months of looking, we couldn’t find a used caravan that would fit our entire family – especially for full-time living, so we ended up splashing out on a brand-spanker. If you do buy new, make sure you find a reputable dealer who comes highly recommended. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a great experience with ours, which threw a dampener on our adventure before it even began. Simply put: do your homework!

Also, bear in mind the type of travelling you’ll be doing. We’d already decided we were going to buy an Australian caravan. Generally speaking, they’re far more robust than many of the English and European vans, which is important to consider if you’re planning on going into remote areas with marginal roads. You pay more for them, but you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with the whole rear-end of your caravan ripped off because you drove over a large pot hole. (True story!) The Aussies have those horrific corrugations on their outback roads, so their vans can take some abuse.


By far the best ‘toys’ we took with us were our bikes. Even better than our surfboards! Simply put, there are bike tracks everywhere – which are a great way to explore our country. We had so much fun on our two-wheeled steeds, it was dangerous! (Read Gypsy Life from Grapevine Issue 2/2018 for more info.)


Another of the best things we did was join the NZMCA (New Zealand Motorhome and Caravan Association). Not only do they have members-only campgrounds throughout the country (which are cheap-as-chips to stay at), they’re also a wealth of good information. The perks you get from the NZMCA are well worth the small cost of becoming members. 

Look, I need to wrap this up, but I hope you’re getting the message. “Answering the call to a life less ordinary” is a no-brainer! Yes, I know I sound like an enlightened life-coach, but it really will be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself and your family.
So, don’t just talk about it – DO IT! And take it from someone who’s been there, done that, and wants to do it again:

“You’ll have no regrets!”